Review: 3 August 1996 – International Ballroom, Houston, Texas, USA – Filthy Lucre Tour

The Sex Pistols

INTERNATIONAL BALLROOM – HOUSTON (Reuter) – I had to see the Sex Pistols. They’re my kinda band: they say what they think, they play what I like, and they play it loud.

Lead singer Johnny Rotten was quoted before the tour as saying the band wouldn’t bother rehearsing before they play. Which sounds like a provocative statement, until you stop and think about it: does any self-respecting band need to rehearse Louie Louie? Or Wild Thing? Or Gloria? The same can be said for God Save the Queen, Pretty Vacant, and Anarchy In the UK, songs that hold up just as well as any other three-chord classic. They played everything from their album Never Mind the Bollocks, opening with Bodies and finishing with EMI; their encores were Anarchy and Problems. They added Stepping Stone and a few new tunes, but omitted Black Leather and Belsen Was a Gas.

Aside from bass player Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistols haven’t aged gracefully. But it didn’t matter: the band was tight, and they played with more intensity than most younger bands, and all older ones. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook are the core of the band, and Matlock complements them well. While the Sex Pistols could easily change lead singers without skipping a beat, Johnny Rotten figured he was the main attraction. More rude than outrageous, his green/red spiked hair and goofy yellow/black outfit made him look like a computer nerd in a clown suit trying to entertain his 5-year-old nephew. Swigging brandy, spitting, blowing snot, cussing, and berating the crowd for living in such a sweatbox, he put everything he had into each song, his raspy voice yelling the lyrics accurately and on cue. Sure, he’s not the best lead singer, but neither is Joey Ramone.

The International Ballroom, a former grocery store that was stripped of everything, including air conditioning, is one of the worst music venues in Texas. The stage is about where the meat department was. It was a good 20 to 30 degrees hotter inside than outside, and felt even more oppressive. The band stopped often to cool down with water and ice: Johnny kept calling for wet towels. And $3.50 for a small beer! At the end, a few people threw dollar bills on stage. In keeping with the Filthy Lucre tour theme, Johnny pasted one to his sweaty forehead and said, “In god we trust” as he walked off. Well, if he really worships money, he needs some financial advice:

Was all the security necessary? Ok, there may have been previous problems on the tour, but everyone at this show was too drenched in sweat to start a riot. We were just happy to get back outside afterward, where it was a relatively cool 90 degrees. Besides, those who espouse anarchy should welcome free expression, not stifle it. Also, how economical is it to pay two opening acts? The first, Stabbing Westward, could easily be dropped. Before starting, their lead singer said of the previous night’s show, “Dallas really sucked.” Fine, so he wants to get a crowd reaction, but will he say the same thing about Houston at his next gig? Maybe Dallas is more receptive to talented bands. What do you have to do? Some good tunes would help. Gravity Kills, the second act, was a vast improvement. After some sound problems at the start, their show was entertaining, though their lead singer needlessly exhorted the crowd to make noise during their songs, when reaction was plenty loud after most of them.

Johnny’s capitalistic pretentions aside, the Sex Pistols are worth the money. And I feel lucky to have seen them and Iggy Pop in the same year.

Iggy was better.

Reprinted from Reuters

Houston – My Account

I saw the Sex Pistols at the International Ballroom, aka “the dump on a sleazy part of town”. Neither the venue nor the neighborhood were nearly as sleazy as I had been lead to believe. But that’s the legacy of punk. The perception is always filthier, sleazier, more violent and generally more insidious than the real thing. The ballroom was just perfect for the Sex Pistols. (the glitter ball was happily exchanged for ceiling fans). We were allowed to smoke, drink, mosh, throw the dregs on the floor, and generally act as unruly as we wanted as long as we could put up with the heat. (after all this is Houston TX in August, and I must credit any brit who can do a whole show in it..I couldn’t) When Johnny Rotten appeared on stage, fashionably late, he apologized by siting the dreaded party bug as an excuse. He also asked us all why we didn’t move to Alaska cuz it was so “bleedin’ hot”. Poor guy was roasting to death. From what I could see, he was more nervous than wasted, but that didn’t stop the band from delivering an energetic show that was nothing less than what I expected.

To be honest, even though I could see the band quite well, I wasn’t close enough to see if they were really “fat and 40”, but Johnny strutted and hollered like a true punk. The words to “Seventeen” were changed to “Thirty-nine”, but all the rest of the songs were as we first heard them on “Never Mind The Bollocks”. We screamed, we yelled, we danced to all the songs! That’s why I bought tickets. I had never seen the Sex Pistols before and wanted to see them. It didn’t matter why they were there or how many tickets they sold. I just wanted to see them! And the Sex Pistols delivered the show I was hoping to see. I think therein lies the reason that they really did this tour. They just Wanted to.

Wow, I’m so dragged that I missed them on Letterman, but it’s scary that punk can get that mainstream. I ‘member back in the old days, I had to stop dying my hair colors cuz everyone else was doing it.

Review courtesy of Bon

Classic Pistols

We were creaking down Ben White, sneaking up on Manchaca, pushing 3am, drenched, cramped in our microscopic Ford, bone-weary from one of the most cathartic, visceral rock & roll experiences of our lives. Yet the four of us had to look at one another, and somehow scrape together enough composure through our sleep deprivation to ask ourselves: “Did we really just see the Sex Pistols?” Well, yes and no. Yes, we saw the four guys who were, indeed, The Sex Pistols, who wrote the songs and played `em and created the mayhem and wrecked civilization and all that nonsense. And they played all the classics — all of Bollocks, all the best B-sides, and the wonderful live-set filler like “Stepping Stone” — with power, precision, and brutality.

It was a good, physical rock & roll show that left you with that limp, drained, I’m-coming-off-weird-drugs vacancy the best rock & roll shows are supposed to offer. A total success on that level, no doubt. Still, what you got was the Sex Pistols without the anger and (on John Lydon’s part) a hint of self-parody. For their part, original bassist Glen Matlock and guitarist Steve Jones were content to walk on, plant their feet solidly onstage, put their heads down, and get on with the job at hand. And yeah, they played the shit outta those songs, with the obvious hits like “Anarchy In The UK” and “God Save The Queen” coming off the best.

But part of the visual joy of live Sex Pistols (and, admittedly, I’m getting this impression off archival video footage) was Matlock bouncing around like a mad little puppy, shuffling up in time for his off-key harmonies. And what’s Steve Jones without his catalog of Pete Townshend leaps and axe god poses and silly guitar player faces? He’s Steve Jones, still with the bravado, still the definitive punk guitar hero, but content to be a workman. And a Sex Pistol should never be content to be a workman.

As for John Lydon, he’s been flouncing around in front of one bad Public Image Ltd. lineup after another for so long, he’s forgotten how to be Johnny Rotten. Johnny Rotten hung off a microphone stand, twitched and flailed like Bob Marley’s corpse excavated and given electroshock, fixing one and all with the most murderous stare in the history of the eyeball, and screaming absolutely hateful street poetry with a rage that was positively inhuman. He did not flounce around with a wireless microphone, campily rub his nipples and wave his ass in the public’s face, and sing in that annoying whine that makes you wish he’d never heard Arabic music. And he sure as fuck didn’t wear a goddamned track suit! Lydon’s fashion sense was shot to shit, and he was too good-natured, too chummy. Too safe.

Too safe: There was the standard Big Rock Show barrier between the Pistols and their public, with a nice phalanx of big `n’ burly security goons in between to enforce that gulf. And the crowd was too willing to adore them and lie down and get its collective tummy scratched. The Sex Pistols need some tension to completely deliver. They nearly got it, with Lydon being greeted by a storm of empty plastic water bottles upon his entrance. But the crowd strangely obeyed the minute he snarled “Fuck off!” This bunch should’ve kicked the barrier down, crushed up against the stage, hurled insults and garbage, and forced the Sex Pistols to live up to their legend — forced them to deliver, goddammit! Instead, they worshipped them. I bet these kids practice safe sex, too (if they even have sex!).

So, no, we didn’t get the full Sex Pistols treatment. We did get a great rock & roll show, however, one of the most exciting in recent memory, one that owed much of its physical kick to Paul Cook, who slams his traps hard enough to recall John Bonham without insult or irony. But it was great the way it would’ve been great to see Elvis in 1971: no longer the revolutionaries and hellions of their youth, it was enough for them to just show up and play the songs, because it was still a mind-blowing experience. – Tim Stegall

Reprinted from the Austin Chronicle.

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